With his Fourth World mythology, comics legend Jack Kirby psychedelicized the concepts of Christianity, rendering the struggle between good (New Genesis) and evil (Apokolips) with vivid, cosmic intensity. But in true Kirby fashion, the core of the story was even more elemental, coming down to the relationship between parent and child. “Now here I have Darkseid, the most evil character ever created,” Kirby said in a 1990 interview with J. Michael Straczynski and Larry DiTillio on KPFK’s Hour 25 radio show. “All this fellow wanted to do was to own everybody’s mind and completely run the universe by himself… But, he couldn’t control his own son.”
Kirby was talking about Orion, the stalwart hero of the Fourth World saga, who appears briefly in the first issue of writer Tom King and artist Mitch Gerads’ Mister Miracle, a new series from DC Comics launched in celebration of what would be Kirby’s centennial birthday later this month. In King and Gerard’s very capable hands — the Sheriff of Babylon creators are two of the most dynamic figures working in the business today — Orion is presented as a caustic personification of privilege. His heroism is the result of a trade with Darkseid by the ruler of New Genesis, the Highfather: Orion would be raised in New Genesis, while the Highfather’s own son Scott Free would be raised in the pits of Apokolips, this bargain preventing war between the two worlds from breaking out. Eventually Free escaped, assuming the heroic identity of Mister Miracle, capable of daring feats of escape, going on to defy his hellish origins and become a happy go lucky hero. But some fates can’t be wiggled out of; there’s no getting out of who you are and where you come from.
The very first issue of Kirby’s Mister Miracle from 1971 proclaimed “He cheats death!” on the cover. King and Gerads follow suit, opening with Free on a bathroom floor, evidently having cheated death by suicide. He’s rushed to the hospital by his wife, Barda, and spends much of the issue in a haze between reality and some place spectral, his wrists wrapped in bandages. It’s a dark introduction, but still a pleasure to hold in your hands and read. The book doesn’t visually feel like anything else being published; its grainy low resolution shots and gorgeous coloring work sets it apart, as does the subtle attention to personal detail. Barda towers lovingly over Free; Orion’s twisted face matches his callous drill instructor demeanor; the Highfather, in white robes and flowing beard, looks pained and uncomfortable facing his son’s existential trauma — his walk on the beach with Free would be funny were it not so depressing.
Gerads conveys much of the character’s extensive history; the smiling, swashbuckling hero we see in flashbacks and on television screens radiates classic Kirby exuberance. He’s contrasted by a disheveled Free, five o’clock shadow over taking his face as Barda wheels him from the hospital, sitting dazed on a couch, having conversations with people who aren’t actually there. No one writes “confusion” like King. Like Noah Hawley’s FX series Legion, we’re tossed into the fog with Scott, uncertain as to what constitutes reality and what’s a malfunction of his own head. Few write melancholy with the same effectiveness as King either — Mister Miracle takes a couple hard punches this issue, but they barely seem to faze him from his disconnect, which is punctuated by ominous black panels bearing only the repeated message: “Darkseid Is.”
Elsewhere on this site you can find a more thorough breakdown of this remarkable comic, but all you need going in is trust in King and Gerads. They’re up to some monumental storytelling here, carefully and smartly deconstructing Kirby’s notion about a father not being willing to hurt his son. At the core of the Fourth World saga is a story of fathers forsaking their sons, about the multitude of hurts passed down from generation to generation. “Something’s wrong… I don’t know how to escape this,” Mister Miracle says as the issue closes, ready to step into a boom tube to face yet another cosmic battle. The fear in his voice is elemental. Mister Miracle has always been able to escape, but eventually there are no places left to go but home.